According to McDowell (1994) the coming of the French Revolution swept away the courtly costumes. This combined with increasing technical demands of dance meant shoes needed to meet the task. The first ballet shoes were based on "straights" worn for ballroom dancing but had no block in the toe. Specialist shoemakers began to appear in every city that had a ballet company. The most famous shoemakers could be found in Paris, and Janssen of Paris made Taglionis' shoes.
A close rival was Crait who started in Lyons in 1823 but moved to Paris in 1850. His shoes were well sought after and the great Adel Grantzan from the St Petersburg ballet ordered her shoes exclusively from him. In 1879 he was made official supplier to the Paris Opera.
During the Belle Epoque many specialist ballet shoe firms were founded including; Ebermann of Berlin, Romeo Niccolini of Milan, Capezio in New York (1887), Gamba in London. Anello & Davide & Frederich Freed.
Some started by accident, Salvatore Capezio, for example was asked to make a replacement pair of shoes for danseur Jean de Reske when he was performing in Romeo & Juliet. Capezio's shoe shop was close at hand to the Metropolitan Opera. The project interested Capezio so much he started to specialize in ballet shoes.
The London based Gamba was formed by an Italian waiter in 1894. Luigi Gamba designed shoes for Pavlova and Nijinsky.
Today, Freed of London is the world's leading ballet supplier and makes over 1000 pairs a day. Dancers have their favourite shoe makers and are fiercely loyal as the tiniest variation in paper or glue in the toe block can mean the difference between agony and comfort.
Patrick Bissell for example wore Capezio for most of his career whereas Anthony Dowell prefers Gamba. The weight of pointes has also varied Emma Livry danced in shoes, which weighed 34 grams each whereas Anna Pavlova's modern blocked shoes weighed 74 grams. Makers pay great attention and can remold the lasts with plaster to take into account of the dancer individual foot shape. The shoes are made in very short time but the treatment of the toe block requires to be baked in a special oven at 140 F(60C) for 14 hours.
A major ballet company will use three thousand pairs per year. In 1998 the shoe budget for the Royal Ballet (London) was in excess of $170,000 (US). To try to recoup some of the costs they sold off discarded pointes at $90 a pair.
Nureyev's old shoes fetched $9,400 (US) at a Christie's auction.
Dancers have several pairs of shoes per week and they rarely last longer than one performance. Whilst the need to break in pointes is less necessary with today's shoes this has not stopped some of the high profile ballerinas from ritualistically preparing their favourite footwear. Some dancers will steam their shoes over kettle steam or crush them in hinges in doors. Others paint their shoes with shellac varnish to harden specific patches.
Anna Pavlova tore her shoes apart then reassembled them before a performance. Margo Fontain was reputed to beat her shoes against the stairs and Kirkland beats her shoes with a special steel hammer she carries around with her for the sole purpose. Dancers usually take responsibility for caring for their shoes and will repairing them when necessary. Dancers have their favourite shoes and try on several pairs in the wings before finding the right ones. Many performances are completed with the dancer wearing shoes, which have literally disintegrated.
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